Why, oh why would I buy such an old junker? The truth is I am a sucker for a cheap but ambitious project. Sometimes it works out fine but quite often it does not. This is one of those instances of overreach in dreams and fall short in execution. Follow along as I try to find a new identity for a rust bucket Austin A40 Devon. It may not have a wonderful ending but the journey has some interesting stops along the way.
It probably is not a great sign when you buy a field car and just about the roughest one in that field. Any guesses on the two in front? I will reveal their identities in the comments later.
Let us start with the positives of this particular Austin. The hood was in good shape as well as the grill. The rear bumper was reasonable in shape as well. And … err … that might be it.
This lovely banjo steering wheel might be the reason I bought the Austin despite all the other rather obvious faults. While not in perfect condition the wheel is at least complete and I love the banjo style.
The rest of the interior was in terrible shape with no real redeeming qualities to it. The front seats were completely absent.
The engine is a 1.2L four cylinder often referred to as a pre B-series since it evolved into the Austin/BMC B-series as used in the MG B and many (many, many) others. The B-series engine is very similar in appearance but they are not interchangeable as the block and head are larger in length and width. The B-series block also had thicker cylinder wall castings to allow for larger displacements.
Looking back I should have considered something like this Fargo pickup instead. Or anything really.
The front wheels were in poor shape and stuck. I gave it a bit of a go with lube and heat to free them up.
The front wheels that came with it for the front were old Toyota rims that someone has hacked to only a very roughly fit. Fine workmanship here.
I do not think the tow truck driver was very amused to haul this heap for me. They told me I was getting a flat bed but this traditional tow truck showed up.
Once home and out of the field one of the rear wheels showed itself to be in rather poor condition as well. My general plan was to take the body off the chassis and put it on a small, mini truck chassis so it would have old school looks with new school drivability. So in theory all the poor condition wheels, suspension, engine, etc would not be required.
As with any field car it needed a massive amount of cleaning. Eventually all the wildlife related bits were cleared out. The floors were more or less complete but worryingly soft at the front.
The Austin A40 must have been a much loved family car at some point. The passenger side sun-visor has “Mom” spelled out with pin cushions. The driver’s side has “Dad”.
While the cleaning was mostly disgusting interior I did find a few neat items including this Famous Player’s movie ticket. It has been a while since a movie only cost seventy five cents.
A more exciting find was this antique car mascot under the rear seat. If you want to guess its identity I will provide the answer at the end of the post.
Next came the stripping portion of the project. After an uncountable number of rusty fasteners were removed the nose came off. I believe the Austin has some Whitworth rather than SAE bolts and fasteners but I managed well enough with a combination of SAE and metric wrenches.
The front suspension probably looks reasonably similar to a MG B owner with a-arms and lever shocks.
Another interesting feature of the A40 Devon is the use of hydraulic brakes at the front but mechanical at the rear.
As I was stripping the interior I found it interesting how much wood was still used in this car. This is the pillar between the two doors.
None of the wood is structural but used to secure the fabric pieces.
After attempting to separate the body from the frame the front around the firewall and front floor collapsed from the rusty underside. I figured I would use the grill and front plus a set of doors. Then I started to create this boot tail from the roof.
I think it might have been do-able but I had a bit of health issue that keep me out of the garage for several months so I ended up parting out the whole lot. The rear axle is now under someone’s trailer. A few of the bits went to someone restoring a better A40. The hacked up body panels were given away to another aspiring hot rodder. The seized engine was turned into a custom table by a local artist. I was able to sell the grill. Amazingly I recovered almost all my money on this turkey. I still have the steeling wheel/column plus a few smaller bits in my garage. Maybe one day I will choose a better basis for a project.
The answer to the hood ornament is a 1935 Terraplane. Unfortunately its tail was broken off but I still sold it on for a few bucks.
“ I think it might have been do-able but I had a bit of health issue that keep me out of the garage for several months…“ Uh, tetanus?
Seriously though, I am in awe of your vision and your abilities. I love the idea of that body on a mini-truck frame, and I’d even come up with a name for it in my own mind: “El Cubano” as a tribute to the mechanics of Havana. I’m sorry that you had health issues that stopped the game, as you were making pretty amazing progress. Far beyond anything I could ever manage.
Please let us know when you start on your next adventure so we can follow along from the beginning.
The old car at the front of the line is a 1946-48 Ford. I would have scooped that one over the Austin..
And the middle one, 1938 Dodge?
Wow, you know you’ve purchased a hopeless pile when the rim is rusted through. Good for you getting most of your money out, and keeping the steering wheel.
And I hope your health problem is sorted. Isn’t middle age a treat? ;(
Both are Canadian variants so your Ford is actually a Monarch.
The middle one is a 1938 but a 1938 McLaughlin Buick 8. Both pretty rough.
Oof, those are rough.
Sorry it didn’t quite pan out as expected, but it’s good to know it became a successful organ donor.
This COAL had shades of your old Honda roadster project.
I’ve got to think that it’s the fantasy of many on this site to encounter an old forlorn field car and bring it back to life. I’ve been tempted with VW buses before, even though I know I lack the skills to do it.
Kudos for the attempt! Nothing lost other than some blood, sweat, tears and money, eh?
It does a lot of parallels to the ill fated Honda. I guess I never learn.
There is something about the design of some old cars and trucks that overwhelms any practical sense. Been close to that myself, always rescued by my continued poverty.
Hmmm, did similar years ago, two of us aquired a A40 Austin chassis very strong, they are boxed to build a dune buggy Vauxhall Velox L running gear from a dead car I had taken off the road, it all went for scrap in the end grand plans etc but poor results.
These were once fairly common on the road here in New Zealand, but the remaining examples are now more commonly seen in fields in similar (or worse) condition to yours. I rode in one in the early 1990s; it had a much later Datsun 1200 engine and brakes transplanted. I don’t know what, if any, difference that made, but it didn’t impress me. Proportions that didn’t quite work, doors so small they made getting in and out a chore, tiny inside, and an overall whiff of trying too hard – or perhaps that was the lightly damp carpet. But they do make interesting custom cars, and what a fascinating challenge you set yourself David, I’m sorry it didn’t pan out.
Wow, that’s an ambitious project even for you! Respect to you for even planning it and your wife for buying into it, given that it seems to have consumed the garage for a while.
Oh she did not buy into it even a little bit. 🙂
These cars were very common in Australia and seemed quite long-lived, many in regular service into the late seventies. That odd pre B-series engine is actually a bored-out Austin 10 engine from the early thirties, with an OHV conversion. Waste not, want not…
Oh, want not, say I.
I used to get a lift home from school in one as a little tacker, about 6 y.o., at which time the leathery old stinker was 24 years old (or the same as a 1995 car now, gulp).
Being little, and it tall and black, I half-thought I was climbing into a Hansom cab. As there was a large hill betwixt home and school, it seemed to have all the speed of one horse on that journey. Mrs S had to waggle the wand on the column down to screaming first, and all others formed an irritated queue behind. Worse, on the return, she’d make jokes about the brakes, which I wasn’t sure were entirely funny, as we did sometimes roll through the stop at the bottom unbidden.
Hard to credit that these were the No. 1 seller here in their day, to be soon decimated by the Holden, which gave similar mpg with literally twice the performance.
I notice the first club for them here was formed in 1971. God knows why, maybe for normal folk to make sure they’ve definitely not making them any more.
Haha. Thanks for sharing the A40 memories.
A perfect A40 / 1949 body needs a frame and chassis to mount. Did you investigate and come up with the 88 S-10 to be the best match for this transformation??
Just looking for a heads up so that time and $ need not be wasted….
thanks in advance ..
It was just a rough guess looking at track width so no real investigation. A big project no doubt.
Mixed hydraulic and mechanical, brakes – did anyone else ever do that?
Yes, Rolls Royce, up till ’55 on the Dawn, then another version of it into the mid-sixties.
Pretty common on British cars in the immediate postwar period. Not sure if anyone outside the UK did that, though.
Closest I can recall is Hudson which had hydraulic brakes with a mechanical backup starting sometime in the 1930s.
Austin kept doing it, the last version to my knowledge was the A40 Farina released in 58, I had one with a souped up 1100cc engine it went ok handled badly and the brakes were rubbish.
Well, a mistake it may have become, but I really do admire your ambition.
I only do things like this in daydreams – but not ever involving A40’s, I must confess.
Wow, I am in total admiration of your vision. And your willingness to undertake something like this with a straight face. Hindsight says that this was never going to end any other way, but you get a big salute for giving it your best.
No excuses needed. First priority is health and if that means a project has to be abandoned, so be it. Adding also I don’t think it was an unrealistic proposition – this body using modern drive-train is not un-doable at all – I would have kept the original chassis, braced it all round and used M2 type front suspension / narrowed modern axle (e.g., from a Ford Explorer) at the back; there are plenty options in so far as the engine/box are concerned with (Mazda Miata mechanicals spring to mind) but it’s just one way to skin a cat.
Good luck next time!
The next COAL is the power train donor …
It has a happier ending at least!
“Amazingly I recovered almost all my money on this turkey. ”
And that’s OK.